Editorial : Premier’s U.N. speech out of focus

The question of what to highlight in a speech of only five minutes may have racked the brains of the approximately 150 national leaders at the U.N. General Assembly’s special session commemorating the United Nations’ 50th anniversary.

The short span allotted to each leader has forced each to give a highly condensed summary of what the world body should do in the future and how his or her country is dealing with related issues. Those five minutes also represented one of the best opportunities for a leader to send a message throughout the world.

The speech delivered Sunday, the first day of the three-day session, by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama had three pillars: Japan’s resolve to see a global ban on nuclear testing; its basic stand on reforming U.N. organizations; and stress on support for a new U.N. strategy of pursuing “human security” besides “national security.”

Murayama called for an immediate end to testing nuclear weapons, and strongly emphasized that negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty be completed by next spring.

In his summit with Chinese President Jiang Zemin before the speech, Murayama also had urged that China refrain from further nuclear testing. Jiang reiterated China’s stand that its nuclear weapons were “for the cause of self-defense.” Although the meeting failed to produce any tangible result, Japan should continue to seize every opportunity to convey its views on nuclear testing to Beijing.

Opportunity lost

The problem with Murayama’s speech, however, is that it did not directly refer to Japan’s wish to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. This absence is contrary to the prime minister’s repeated contention that his coalition government wanted Japan to have a permanent voice on the United Nations’ most powerful decision-making panel.

The Foreign Ministry explained that Murayama did not want to spend any of his five minutes giving concrete details of a topic covered in an earlier U.N. speech by Foreign Minister Yohei Kono.

The explanation, however, is hardly persuasive.

How much longer would the premier’s speech have been if he had merely explained the wording of Kono’s speech to emphasize that Japan was ready to fulfill responsibility “as a permanent member of the Security Council” on the condition that it has the support of as many countries as possible?

Insisting that reiteration by the prime minister is unnecessary is nonsense. A remark by the country’s leader obviously has more political weight than one by the foreign minister. Direct reference to Japan’s willingness to become a permanent member of the Security Council, by the prime minister in front of the leaders of most of the world’s nations, would have been a straightforward way to convey the message.

Murayama’s reticence must have come from the fact that many members of two ruling coalition parties, the Social Democratic Party of Japan and New Party Sakigake (Pioneers), are against Japan having a permanent seat.

The Norwegian prime minister and other foreign leaders on Sunday expressed support for allowing Japan and Germany to become permanent members of the Security Council. Japan itself, however, has yet to consolidate its stance on the issue because of the continuing uncertainty in its domestic politics. This is hurting the nation’s diplomacy.

Inappropriate topic

The third pillar in Murayama’s speech, “human security,” is a new approach intended to redefine the concept of security, which so far has been understood largely in terms of individual states, as a way of further protecting the security and rights of each person.

The prime minister may have referred to the concept to try to promote it as an international version of his pet domestic theme of forming a “government that cares for the people” and to foster international cooperation for improving the condition of people around the world. However, merely mentioning the idea, without making any specific proposals on how to put it into effect and who should bear the huge costs, is bound to come to naught.

Since the end of the Cold War, the incidence of civil wars and other ethnic and religious conflicts has risen sharply and sparked massacres, starvation and violations of human rights.

The “human security” concept is being discussed as a guiding principle for the international community to combat these grave problems by transcending national borders. The prime minister should be well aware that the concept thus is too complicated and delicate to be used as a political catchphrase in a short speech.